We continually hear warnings from the conservative community to the effect that our potential enemies, namely China, Russia and the Muslim Middle East, are getting ahead of us militarily while we have been sitting here doing nothing under Democratic administrations. From where do they get their information? It’s certainly not from international defense spending figures, the most accurate indicator of our current military strength.
We exceed China almost three to one ($611.2 to $215.7 billion annually) in military expenditures. We are also ahead of Russia ($69.2) by almost nine-fold and lead Saudi Arabia, in fourth place, by a factor of 12. In naval capacity the U.S. is greatly superior to both China and Russia in both numbers and technology, particularly in nuclear carriers. Our European allies, mainly Great Britain, France and Germany, plus Japan, together spend over $200B annually on defense. And Israel (unofficially, of course) possesses enough nuclear warheads (an estimated 100 – 400 and the wherewithal to deliver them) to incinerate any Middle Eastern aggressor within hours. The one area in which we have fallen behind is submarines. But we are committed to closing that gap. So where is the concern? The greatest deterrent to a nuclear war in the days before the Soviet collapse was mutually-assured destruction, and that strategy remains essentially unchanged.
Does our unchallenged superiority mean that we can relax and let our guard down even for a minute? In no way. But it also means that we must guard against military overspending to the neglect of essential domestic requirements. Both our infrastructure and our public education system are in disgraceful shape. These conditions must be addressed immediately and might require cutting military spending, raising taxes, or both. Most likely both.
In his 1960 farewell address President Eisenhower warned of the inherent dangers from a military-industrial complex with too much power. Ike, whose entire life was devoted to studying, waging and avoiding war, knew what he was talking about from first-hand experience. Diverting social spending to essentially destructive purposes can actually deplete rather than enhance our overall national health. "Military Keynesianism," the belief that the production of arms, even when excessive, invigorates the domestic economy is unproven. Too much has been assumed from our World War II experiences. Today we have different times, different players and different conditions. But with corporate executives filling key Pentagon positions and top military brass hired by defense contractors upon retirement, are we always looking at things objectively? Impartially? Honestly?
With the USSR gone and communism now on the ropes, we still seem to know how to start wars, but are lacking on how to end them. Our poor professional military men and women loyally traipse from one unwinnable war to the next without complaining. How long can this continue? Human endurance and, contrary to popular opinion, deficit spending, has its limits.
The likelihood that China and the U.S. will go to war? That scare has been recently revived, but that would be totally insane for both. We owe them too much money and they make too much of our stuff.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.